Marlins trying to stay healthy as camp winds down
Club hopes Dietrich (broken nose), Furcal (strained hamstring) will be ready for opener
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Seeing Derek Dietrich sprawled on the ground and covering his face is one of the major reasons why Marlins officials nervously count down the final days of Spring Training.
A bad hop on Thursday left Dietrich with a broken nose and had the Marlins scrambling to find another infielder to send to Osceola County Stadium on Friday to face the Astros.
"Whenever you get closer to Opening Day, you cringe every time something like that happens," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.
Dietrich appears to have dodged a more serious break, sustaining a non-displaced fracture to the top of his nose. The 24-year-old was fitted for a protective mask on Friday, and he is only expected to miss a few days. Still, this late into Spring Training, any setback is potentially crucial.
Miami also has a question at second base, because Rafael Furcal is dealing with a strained left hamstring. The club is hopeful, but it is unsure if the veteran will be ready for Opening Day.
Ed Lucas is recovering from a left hamstring strain. On Sunday, he is expected to return to Grapefruit League action and play first base against the Tigers at Lakeland.
Dietrich, Lucas and Donovan Solano are candidates to play second base, in case Furcal isn't ready.
Along with Dietrich, the Marlins had another anxious moment on Thursday when Adeiny Hechavarria was clipped on the left hand by a pitch. The shortstop appears to be fine.
"Hech takes that ball off the hands, and you hold your breath," Hill said. "We're getting to the point now where we still want our guys to get ready for the season, but you want them healthy. That's probably paramount -- health."
The fear of injury comes a couple of days after Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman was struck on the face by a line drive. Hill watched replays of the Chapman injury with concern.
"You cringe whenever a player goes down, because you never know what's wrong until you hear from the doctor," Hill said.
For the most part, Miami has experienced a pain-free camp. The players are motivated, focused and competing. Jobs are up for grabs, and the competition has the organization hopeful that it can make tremendous strides in the regular season.
First, though, the Marlins are hopeful of reaching the March 31 opener against the Rockies at Marlins Park at full strength.
"The beauty of our camp thus far is the competition has been great," Hill said. "Each guy is battling and competing."
In Furcal's case, it's not a matter of winning a job. It's a matter of getting the hamstring ready. Once it is, the 36-year-old will step in at second base. Because of Furcal's vast big league experience, the organization feels he can make up lost time quickly and be ready and productive, even after missing most of Spring Training.
"It's getting later in the spring, but I know he's doing functional activities," Hill said. "So I'm still encouraged that he will be ready to go on Opening Day. He knows his body. He knows what he needs to do to get himself ready. He's been in the big leagues for 14 years, as opposed to a rookie or a first-year player who may not know what he needs to do to get ready. From that aspect of it, I'm not concerned. It's purely health."
Hill did note that another setback would change the club's thinking. If Furcal opens the season on the disabled list, Dietrich will become a prime candidate to start, assuming he is healthy.
How Dietrich fits in the roster puzzle is out of his control. What he's focused on is improvement and doing his part to make the roster decision a tough one.
After a challenging 2013, Dietrich has been highly motivated. As a rookie, he was promoted from Double-A Jacksonville in May after Solano went on the disabled list. He had mixed results; after getting off to a hot start, he wound up batting .214 with a .275 on-base percentage, plus 56 strikeouts in 215 at-bats.
The promise was Dietrich's power, as he belted nine home runs in 57 games.
After getting a taste of big league life, Dietrich is determined to become an impactful everyday player. This season, he feels that he is better prepared to deal with adversity.
"You've got to be confident when things aren't going well," Dietrich said. "Everyone in here has got confidence. It's when you're struggling, that's when the true confidence shows. That's when you have to show you're going to turn it around as quickly as possible. I've got that this year. I've put in the work. I've put in the time. I feel like I'm right where I need to be. It's going to be a great year for us. We're going to surprise some people, and I hope I have a chance to help this team win."
Dietrich has quietly enjoyed a strong Spring Training, batting .361 with a .439 on-base and .611 slugging percentage. A left-handed hitter, Dietrich has chipped in with four doubles, a triple, one home run and six RBIs.
As an organization, the Marlins are putting an emphasis on versatility, hoping to have players capable of handling a variety of roles. Dietrich has worked at second and third base.
"He's showing his versatility and what he can do," manager Mike Redmond said. "With the uncertainty with Rafael Furcal and not knowing what's going to happen with him, it's nice to have a guy like that who is there and getting a chance to play, in case Rafi is not ready for the season."
Whether Dietrich opens the season in Miami or at Triple-A New Orleans, the Marlins are positioned to have big league-ready players at various levels.
The same holds true for Lucas and Solano. All have options, so any of the three could begin in the Minors.
"It's going to be tough for whomever it is to go back," Hill said. "But it's no secret we used 53 players last year. You're going to need them all. It's a nice feeling to know that you have Major League-ready guys playing for you in the Minor Leagues."